Speaker John Boehner . will retire at the end of this month, and in so doing, will mark the decisive end of an era of Republican politics.
Boehner, who first stepped up to the plate to replace Tom DeLay, was in many ways a creature of the same Bush-era style of Republican politics. That is, a Republican politics dominated by special interests, carve-outs, and old school wheeling and dealing, or as George Will memorably termed it, K Street conservatism. At its best, this school of politics was pragmatic and able to form broad coalitions to tackle important issues and maintain Republican dominance. At its worst, it was, as Will wrote, a politics of “exuberantly serving rent seekers.”
One thing is certain, however: This style of politics was everything that the Tea Party of 2010 sought to reject. And while Boehner was savvy enough to ride the coattails of that movement, he has never seemed comfortable with its influence over its caucus, a caucus that is more interested in launching insurgencies against the establishment than in negotiating with it. With Boehner’s exist, the Republican caucus may finally have a speaker whose understanding of politics is informed not by the go-along, get-along style of the Bush-era, but by the iconoclastic style of the Obama era.
Whoever the new Speaker turns out to be, this means that he will need to make his mark. The best way to do that is with a decisive early victory that shows his capacity to defy special interests and work across the aisle without sacrificing principle. As it happens, such an issue that meets just that description already exists. I’m talking about patent reform.
Patent reform, an otherwise overwhelmingly bipartisan cause which can unite politicians as different as Mike Lee . and Chuck Schumer ., is an issue that could have far-reaching implications for the GOP’s ability to maintain its foothold with both the tech industry, and with small businessmen. Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) . special interest-motivated opposition to patent reform bills arguably cost him his seat as Senate Majority Leader due to the massive swing against him by the tech industry.
However, contrary to the Google-baiting drummed up by reform’s opponents, it’s not just tech companies who are hurt by the current patent system. Small businesses are some of the most high profile casualties of patent trolling as well, and even when they survive battles with these litigious entities, the costs can be punishing. Witness the case of Capstone Photography, a Connecticut-based small business, which technically won a case brought by a troll, but was forced to spend 10 months and $100,000 fighting it. To a small business, time and money like this can be the difference between life and death.
With such obviously sympathetic supporters, and such a wide spread of bipartisan support, there’s little doubt that patent reform could easily pass the full house, if the next Speaker were to bring it up for a vote. The only thing holding it back is the vociferous opposition by a coalition of nakedly rent-seeking special interests that reads like a “who’s who” of liberal crony capitalism. Despite hiding behind a sophist fig leaf of support for property rights, the forces opposing patent reform are quite obviously only interested in padding their bottom line at the expense of innovation and growth.
Trial lawyers, for instance, hate patent reform because it will deprive them of an easy cash cow. In fact, it was their opposition that drove Harry Reid to kill patent reform in the last Congress. Needless to say, the interests of the trial bar are not something a Republican Speaker has any reason to lose sleep over.
Another group that wants to kill patent reform is colleges and universities, whose administrators make a killing from selling their patents to trolls in order to bolster their own salaries, while twisting the public service that their research departments are supposed to provide. The interests of pampered faculty lounge paper pushers should be rightly ignored by the next Speaker.
Then there is the pharmaceutical industry, which seeks to neuter patent reform so that it can go on enjoying artificial monopolies on life-saving drugs. Needless to say, given that these same people lined up behind Obamacare at the drop of a hat, there is scant reason for the next Speaker to listen to them.
But beyond the political reasoning behind supporting patent reform, there is something far deeper at stake toward which the next Speaker should hopefully be deeply sympathetic. That is the fact that, while the opposition to patent reform is completely opportunistic, support for the concept comes from those who believe that a legal system that fails to acknowledge reality is an invitation to lawlessness. The fight for patent reform, in other words, is the fight for the rule of law.
Given that so much Republican opposition to Boehner centered on his willingness to allow the Obama administration to continually act with nothing less than unhampered lawlessness, endorsing this concept will enable the Speaker to send the message loud and clear to special interests seeking favors that there is a new sheriff in town. It will make it clear that the next Republican Speaker intends to govern based on conservative principle and common sense, rather than out of fear of lobbyists, corruptible organizations, or attacks from the Leftist donor base.
Let’s hope the next Speaker is willing to do just that. Because if not, then we could be in for another few years of cronyism being mistaken for government.
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